Tag Archives: poetry

A poem about poets

The Poets have Gone Out

 

The Poets have gone to the hills

Free from domestic nuisance and noise

They can speak of deeper, manly things:

Literature, philosophy, their own most recent work.

 

Later, in letters they will reflect on

Each other’s excellent, worthwhile thoughts.

Later again, academics will delve,

Ponder these exchanges, write papers on

The insights, teach students, build careers.

 

All the while, the wives of The Poets

Feed mouths, clean, mend, sew and tend.

Darn the socks of Poets

Make the breakfast of Poets

Raise the offspring of Poets

 

No record remaining of what they say

Once The Poets have gone out for the day.

 

(I was thinking very much about Victorian and early twentieth century writers when I wrote this. And a line from T.S. Eliot’s literary criticism that haunts me about how poetry should be dry, hard and manly, and Robert Graves’ obsession with the idea that men are poets and women are to embody the Goddess and be muses, and an array of other such annoyances in that vein.)


Poem: Encounter

Eye contact.

Shy cautious checking

Each other out.

Checking for danger,

For interest.

We’re very still.

I offer; you gaze.

When you move

It is sudden.

Fluttering, hovering close.

I do not breathe.

You do not stay.

We try again,

The same dance.

I offer, you assess.

This time you move in

Bold, certain, landing.

Into my waiting hand.

Onto my skin.

Eye contact.

Still cautious, checking,

Your feet so small,

Your tiny weight,

A miracle on my fingers.

I do not breathe,

And when you

Have taken grain enough,

You fly away.


Poetic truth

What do we use instead of metaphors, to talk about things more fully, but without getting caught in language that can be used against us? I get into the most interesting conversations, and the first fruits of that exchange are there to be read at Celtic Earth Spirit.

We know that police have used anti-terrorist laws to monitor law abiding Green activists and politicians. We know there are lists. We know that standing up for the survival of the planet and the species is considered radical and dangerous. Which when you stop and think about it, is weird. Where this is going and how seriously planet-protectors are threatened by laws designed to stop terrorists, is anyone’s guess. But, however this goes, new approaches to language may help us.

Language is a currency, and like any other currency, it can be devalued. Miss-use and over-use can take the power out of words. When corporations take your words to use in marketing campaigns, they take power as well. ‘Community’ is something politicians like to say when they mean to sound inclusive.

Modern language is increasingly about the pulling together of words. Chillax. Brexit. Remoaner. It’s sloppy, soundbite thinking designed to reduce and diminish. Careless misrepresenting of other people’s words has become a staple of fake news. I don’t think there’s one answer to this – not least because a multiplicity of individual answers is always the better way to go. Treating language with love would be a good part of the mix.

So let’s speak in story and metaphor, in poetry and allusion. Let’s play with the breadth and depth of languages, old and news to find words that have not been tarnished with poor usage. Let’s find and use heart words, soul words, the language of human in the landscape. No more trite little phrases designed to silence dissent. No more petty point scoring where winning trumps truth as a priority. With wit and wordplay, pun and poem, let’s find better ways of communicating with each other.

After all, the trolls only come out to feed when they can hear the trip-trapping across the bridges, and we do not have to trip or trap, we can make quieter bridges that do not alert the things that like to hide underneath and sabotage.


Accessible Poetry

I don’t know the figures, but it’s pretty obvious that far more people don’t read poetry by choice, than do read it. People obliged to read it for school can’t be counted in this. By and large, the people writing poetry are people who read poetry. After all, no one does poetry for the fame and glamour, the only realistic motivations involve love or catharsis, or both. Often (but not always) people who write poetry seem to assume that they are writing only for the small number of people who habitually read poetry, and this tends to make poetry less accessible.

I read a collection recently that had a lot of classical references in it. Now, it’s one thing if you’re a Hellenic Pagan writing about Greek Gods for fellow Pagans – this is not about you! Pagans aside, access to ‘classics’ tends to come with a certain kind of education – grammar school, or private. Anyone under forty will probably not have studied Latin at state school. Anyone who went to a secondary modern, or even a regular comprehensive won’t have done much on classical writing. There is a definite class aspect to this, and as most of us are working class, most of us are excluded from any poetry that assumes the reader has had a certain kind of education. I know people whose poetic education was about verse – rhyme and beat, which means everything of the twentieth century ‘classics’ is unfamiliar to them.

Yes, we can self-educate and many of us do. Yes, we can read around, and read widely, and as voraciously as the local library and time will allow. But, if you read alone and for the love of it, you probably won’t find your way to all the literary poets other poets may be inclined to reference. You may well be totally put off long before that happens.

Now, if your poetry includes waves to ancient Rome, or T.S. Eliot, but makes perfect sense to someone who doesn’t know about those things, you’re golden. Those who know can enjoy it, those who don’t know can enjoy it and you may even help someone find their way into other things they hadn’t read before. However, if the sense of the poem depends on knowing who Eurydice was, or being able to recognise what God said to Noah without the context, or something of that ilk, it becomes a locked box for which many readers will never have the keys, and that’s just annoying.

When a poem assumes knowledge the reader does not have, the poet is saying ‘this is not for you.’ I don’t think poetry should be a largely inaccessible thing written by and for a particular kind of educated elite. I think poetry should be for everyone.


Poetry: The Dirty Britons

When did my people stop being indigenous?

Before enclosure stole their commons

And industry stole the shape of their days.

Before peasant labour in feudal field strips.

Perhaps before Vikings, Romans, Celts,

My ancestors lived in knowing harmony

And were people of this land.

 

Before memory. Before history.

 

I walk myself into this land.

I walk this land into me.

Step by step, season to season,

Making body knowledge.

I am not my ancestors,

Cannot channel what they knew

But all traditions start somewhere.

I teach my son what I can of presence.

Generations hence we might find

What it is to be English indigenous

On English ground, despite the crushing,

Severing, looking the wrong way and

Getting excited about the wrong things

History of conventional Englishness.

Even we might yet relearn soil songs

Become genuine people of the earth


What is poetry?

Quite some time ago, I was asked for an explanation as to what poetry is, from a man who had been taught at school that poetry means rhythm and rhyme. Being a big fan of free verse, I knew that couldn’t be it, but it’s a hard question to answer. I know when I’ve encountered it (and I feel much the same way about Druidry!) but that’s not a useful thing to offer a person. A long car journey with writer, publisher and creative writing teacher Anthony Nanson gave me chance to kick the question about and take advantage of his much cleverer mind.

Anthony suggested that rhyme and meter give you verse, but not necessarily poetry. It’s possible to say bland, empty, dull and tedious things with verse, after all.

I can see a little dog

Picking up a mouldy log

Running with it to a bog

Took its photo for my blog…

Poetry is more than this. If something is poetic, it is more than the sum of its parts. Something in the writing will create possibilities, moods, impressions that do more than the individual words were capable of.

“anyone lived in a pretty how town” – a bit of ee cummings, which I think makes the point. Everyday words, but not an everyday effect.There’s space in poetry where the reader/audience can bring something for themselves – in fact often must make this engagement for the writing to make full sense to them. The need to find your own meaning, to make something out of the juxtapositions and impressions can be very much part of the poetic experience.At a poetry book launch of Jay Ramsay’s several years ago, Jay said that poetry calls upon different parts of the brain to prose. It requires us to think differently to step out of our normal relationship with the world. It’s hard to pin this down as an experience – but that is part of what makes it itself. We are touched and changed in ways that are uniquely personal to each of us. Something gets in. Something is not the same.Granted, a beautiful piece of prose can have that effect to, but if it does, we tend to call the writing ‘poetic’ anyway.The conclusion I’ve come to, is that poetry is a little bit of enchantment.


My Inconvenient Truth

I am a rock in the stream.

I choose to be still,

Let water wash over me,

Flow around me,

Break in waves against

My obstinate self.

Your flood will not

Change what I am.

Tumble me in the current,

I am still a rock in the stream.

Wash me up, discard me,

I am the rock

That was in the stream.

I am myself.

Erode me over years

Into crumbs of limestone,

In my fragments

I am still the rock from the stream.

My form is not my whole self,

I have a history of being,

Waves cannot break that.

Unmake me, send ice fingers

To prise me open

Bring bigger rocks to shatter me.

I have still been myself

And my ripples will continue

Long after my breaking.

I am the rock in the stream.

Truth in my stillness,

Waiting for the flood to pass.


The Poet’s Journey

You sit all night upon a mountain top

To become either mad, or a poet,

But return to daily life much the same,

Hungry, and confused, but trying to speak

Of the night and the mountain and your soul.

You steadfastly research crazy mountains

A place for blows or visions is required,

A place of mystical transformation.

You sit all night on a new mountain top,

Come back speaking of the star jewelled sky,

Space between galaxies, eternity,

But the words are always inadequate.

You flirt with cliché and depression

In rhyming couplets you learn to despise.

Neither a poet, nor properly mad,

All you can do is keep climbing mountains,

And come back without the words to explain,

To people who have never mountain sat,

Whose eyes glaze over at your description.

You seek the company of poets,

Of lunatics bent on chasing the moon,

Deranged idealists and small children

Who want to hear all about your journey,

And for all your relentless sanity

Declare you to be one of their odd tribe.

Each night you all sit on mountain tops

Dreaming the way to distant pinnacles

Until your returning empty handed

Becomes a different kind of meaning.


Adventures in reading

Gabriel Bradford Millar, Crackle of Almonds (selected poems) published by Awen.

This is a collection that spans a long poetic life – the first poem dates from 1958, the last one in the book came from 2011. I very much enjoyed it. These are the kinds of poems that all make good sense at first reading, with striking images that transform the ordinary into the remarkable. If you re-read and ponder, there are depths to explore. There’s a lot of writing from a position of empathy with other women – something I find I need to have more of in my life. It’s warm, human, forgiving work, well worth a look.

More about the book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/crackle_of_almonds.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane – this one really supplies the adventure! I love Robert Macfarlane’s landscape writing, and I have been inspired by his mission to get people more engaged with the natural world. So I started out ready to love this book. Then I didn’t love it at all, it seemed to be about a man with far more time, energy and resources than I can dream of, driving around the country to visit remote places. Most of us can’t do this, and if we did, those remote places wouldn’t be the wild places they are. Wildness as a privilege for the few cannot be the way to go. But then, about two thirds of the way through, a huge shift in the author’s perception occurs. A re-seeing of the world, a willingness to encounter the wild in smaller, more local ways, and at this point I fell back in love with the writing. If you are the sort of person who sees nature as ‘away’ and exotic, and only possible in the absence of humans, then this would be a book to read because you may discover something in the author’s journey.

More about the book here – http://grantabooks.com/The-Wild-Places

 

 

 

 

 

Manic Mosaic, By Alexis Bear

This is a book about living with depression. It’ small enough to be easily read, which if you’re at the bottom of a hole, is a major consideration. The book revolves around the author’s first hand experiences with depression and health care, and there’s a lot of valuable information in it. The two sets of readers who will benefit most from this are 1) people who have just got a diagnosis and are frightened, confused, overwhelmed… This book will give you insights, show you that you aren’t alone, and give you some tools for navigating. 2) People living with, or dealing closely with someone suffering depressive illness. I think category 2 may be the most important here, because Alexis Bear does a superb job of explaining how the depressive mind works (or doesn’t) and what you can do that will help, or at least not exacerbate things. Its not easy to help a depressed person, and the useful interventions may be counter intuitive, because the normal mind does not function like the depressed mind. It’s also a feature of depression that when you’re sat at the bottom of the hole, explaining how you came to be there, why its a hole, why you can’t get out, why you can’t look on the bright side or just get over it, is not only impossible, but makes you feel worse. Pressing this book into a person’s hands may save a lot of trying to explain why, this week, all you can do is cry. I’ve just had a mostly crying patch, and I know its exhaustion, but I also know that this whole process makes very little sense to anyone else.

Manic Mosaic on Amazon


Perceptions in reviewing

We each come to book reviews as individuals, with different needs and ideas about what a book should do. From an authoring perspective, this is an unwinnable game, because there will always be people who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, wanted your book to have been something else. From the reviewing perspective, it creates all kinds of challenges too. The best reviewers have the self awareness to flag up their own biases such that anyone reading the review can factor that in and make their own judgments.

As a reviewer, I found Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry to be a really interesting book, not least for the way in which it opens up poetry as a tool for pathworking. I wouldn’t work with the poems the authors suggests, but the method the book explores is something I’ve found tremendously helpful. One of my biases is that I like analysis – something this book features heavily. I like to understand things intellectually and I find this deepens my scope to engage emotionally. However, not all readers respond in this way.

Below is a review from  Frank Malone – OBOD student and professional psychoanalyst.

An Ambivalent Appreciation

I had a significant mix of reactions to Fiona Tinker’s Pathworking Through Poetry: Visions from the Hearts of the Poets. Initially I was attracted by the title. Working as a psychoanalyst, often the best interpretations to patients are like poetry – called overdetermined interpretations. In psychoanalysis, an interpretation is any intervention that is designed to facilitate something unconscious becoming conscious. The overdetermined interpretation (developed in the 1960s by Marie Coleman Nelson, one of my supervisors during training) is a verbal intervention that is ambiguous enough to carry multiple levels of meanings for a patient. Thus there is “projective room” for the patient to interpret to herself whatever is psychologically needed in the moment.

Abundant projective room is one of the characteristics of great art. There must be enough ambiguity for multiple generations and cultures to see their issues addressed in the work. However objective the aesthetic quality of the work may be, it will never be great art to you if it cannot answer one question:

“What does this have to do with me?”

Hence my essential critique of the book. The author gives so much historical and biographical detail about the poems examined that it interfered with my being able to make psychological use of the poetry.
An analogy comes to mind with filmic art. My emotional responses to a work have been diminished by watching behind -the-scenes documentaries. Scenes can feel less magical once the camera tricks are known. (Even though my appreciation of the skill and craft of producing the scene may have increased.)
I found that generally for me, it was not psychologically helpful to know that, for example, in a specific image the poet was actually struggling with a certain set of personal issues. It interfered with using that image for my own healing and self evolution.

Conversely to my above statement however, the author does give specific examples of how historical and biographical particulars can facilitate pathworking. For instance, in discussing the image of the holy Rood in O’Sullivan’s Credo she says helpfully that, “contemplation of the symbolism of the priest hiding behind this dead screen can be a rewarding exercise for those meditating on their position with regards to the religion of their youth” (p.68).

I am however thankful for this book. As a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I am naturally interested in Celtic history, legends and spirituality. W.B. Yeats was brought to life, and I knew nothing of Fiona MacLeod and Seumus O’Sullivan. As a healer I am drawn to Bridget, and I appreciate how the author facilitated Bridget’s voice. As a mental health professional I also appreciated her comments about psychic vampires, and the importance of psychological and spiritual protection before pathworking. She also emphasises the need to utilise one’s own spiritual tradition in operationalising protection.

I will keep this book ‎as a reference to the poets examined, but not as a tool in my spiritual practise.

*    *    *    *    *

Readers who, like me, thrive on understanding the mechanics, and who don’t find that gets in the way of their spirituality, will likely love this book. You can find out more here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-pathworking-through-poetry Readers who need the room for unrestricted emotional responses probably won’t, although as Frank points out, it’s still very much worth considering this book for what it can teach you about poets working in the Celtic traditions.